Celtics vs Bucks: Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo go blow for blow in heavyweight fight for the ages

Celtics vs Bucks: Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo go blow for blow in heavyweight fight for the ages

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum gave us a heavyweight fight for the ages on Friday, combining for 90 points on 62 shots. Tatum’s Celtics picked up the win, sending this series to a Game 7 on Sunday.

He came to help. Tatum, who finished with 46 points on 17-for-32 shooting, got more. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart combined for 43 points on nine 3-pointers, and they both hit crucial 3-pointers in the streak. The best support Antetokounmpo got was a fairly calm and ineffective 17 points from Jrue Holiday. Outside of Pat Connaughton’s 14 off the bench, no other Buck has scored more than six points.

Tatum took charge during the game’s pivotal period. The Bucks had cut Boston’s 14-point lead to four with just over eight minutes left on a Giannis 3 off the top of the key. The building was on fire. The Celtics were only about to lose their grip. Then Tatum threw 10s in a row on some of the silkiest sweaters you can draw.

Less than three minutes later, Boston regained its lead at 11 and it was safe the rest of the way. Brown called it Tatum’s “signature” performance, and he’s right. Think of the history of the Boston Celtics, and Tatum is now just the second player in franchise historyjoining Sam Jones, to post multiple 45-point playoff games.

Tatum’s 46 is also the second highest yield for a Boston player in an elimination game, tied with Paul Pierce. Tatum is also one of five players in history to score over 45 to force a Game 7, joining LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray.

Boston, obviously in addition to their defense, became a title contender because, in part, Tatum dulled the hero ball, but the Celtics needed a hero in Game 6 and he stepped up. He was awfully effective on Friday, but like Giannis, it was also sheer willpower to hit stuff.

Tatum has taken 85 shots over the past three games. James Harden took two shots in the second half of Philly’s season-ending loss on Thursday. He entered Game 6 shooting just 40 percent for the series, but he wasn’t going to come out quietly. He has, and has, no intention of dodging bright lights.

We always hope for efficiency, but the relentlessness of a great goalscorer is so appreciated at times like this. Giannis is the same way. Nobody else wanted Milwaukee, so he put his head down, literally, and scored 44 for the Bucks on 30 shots. He added 20 rebounds to join Shaquille O’Neal as the only player this century to go 40-20 in the playoffs. Add his six assists and he’s on his own.

I was really late on the Giannis train. I was, and forever will be, skeptical of players who can’t shoot and have to fight their way to the edge (yes, I’m aware that Giannis has vastly improved as a midfield shooter range, even as a 3-point shooter, although the numbers are pretty bad when it comes to the latter). But Obligate is the operative term here.

Antetokounmpo’s utter refusal to be denied, his willingness to flirt with, and often commit, uncontrollable charges and turnovers as he raced downhill time and time again, his endless pursuit of offensive boards, bodies dangling from him as he grabs his misses and comes right back up, it’s honestly exhausting to watch. But it never runs out. He keeps coming. Harden once said that Giannis had no skills, and I’ll be damned if any part of me ignorantly disagrees, but I’m here to tell you, an engine like this on a body like that one isn’t just a skill, it’s a super power.

Tatum’s buckets are prettier. The Antetokounmpo are inevitable. For that reason, I want to give the Bucks a slight edge in Game 7, despite Boston’s home court advantage. Giannis will be almost 40 years old. I would bet almost anything on that. Tatum, however, has more reliable offensive assist in Brown and Smart and I’d bet on a big game from Al Horford as well. The absence of Khris Middleton was really felt in the individual half-court creation of a tense Game 7.

Anyway, what a fight between two of the best players in the game we had on Friday. Given the mentality of these guys, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we got a sequel on Sunday.

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